When to Submit Your Book Series/Trilogy: Publishing Tips

Today’s post is for all of my book series and trilogy writers out there! I’ve always been a series girl. I love both reading them and writing them. If you ask me, there’s nothing like getting to know a group of wonderful characters and then spending multiple books with them. But if you’re writing a series, it might be hard to know when to submit your book series to an agent/editor.

Should you wait until you finish the whole series? If not, then when? And what else do you need? This post aims to cover all of that! It was also inspired by a Well Told Story commenter! (Thanks, Sarah!)

Just as a side note, this post is geared towards unpublished writers who are looking to be traditionally published for the first time. In most cases, you need an agent for traditional publishing, but some small presses don’t require an agent for submission. Because of that, I’ll be using agent and editor interchangeably.

Here’s what you need to know when the time comes to submit your book series or trilogy:

When to submit your book series

In most cases, the time to start submitting your series is after you finish the first book. At this point, you should have a strong first novel that gives you a good sense of your characters and a trajectory for your series.

Why you shouldn’t submit your book series sooner

Agents/Editors want to read your book to see what kind of writer you are before they make any offers, so you shouldn’t start querying until you’ve finished the first book. You want to make a good impression, so be sure you’re submitting your best work. This means you shouldn’t be submitting a first draft. Make sure you’ve revised and polished your book to the best of your ability! (This much is true if you’re writing a series or not. Finish your book before you submit anything!)

Why you shouldn’t submit your book series later

It may be tempting to wait until you finished your series/trilogy. This would allow you to really tighten, polish, and present a complete story for publication. However, there are two reasons why I would advise against this.

First, your editor is likely to suggest changes to your first book that will significantly impact the later books in your series. These changes can affect any (or every) aspect of your book, including character, plot, and world building. If this happens, it’s very possible you may have to change some of your plans for the series. This is a lot easier to do if you haven’t written the other books.

Second, if you are writing with a goal of publication, you need a first book or standalone to get an agent/editor. A second (or third) book won’t get you anywhere if the first book doesn’t sell, and writing those books without a contract takes valuable time away from another project that might get you an agent or editor. This doesn’t mean you can’t write the rest of the series for yourself if that’s what you want to do. But if you want to be published, I would suggest putting those plans on the back burner and focusing on a new project entirely. Otherwise, you’re putting a lot of time into something that may not get you any closer to your overall goal.

What you might want to prepare

Even though you’re not writing your complete series, you want to be prepared to discuss it with your potential agent/editor. When you go to submit, there are two things I recommend having ready:

First, a plan for the second book. A synopsis is ideal, but if you’re not a planner, try to have some plot points at the very least. Your agent may need you to become a little bit of a planner to sell the series, but they’ll tell you what they need from you when the time comes. Also, don’t feel like you have to commit to whatever you plan. Everyone involved knows that the editing process of the first book may change things, they just want to see what your vision is at this point in time.

The second thing I’d suggest having is a plan for the series. This can be more vague than the plan for book two since it’s farther down the road. Just have a good idea what key moments are going to pop up and how the series ends. That should be enough of a pitch to get you in the door, but if your agent/editor needs more from you, they’ll let you know.

It’s also worth noting that you may not need either of these things. I didn’t, but I know of authors who did. Every agent/editor is different, but I say, it’s better to be prepared than be caught off guard.

My experience

When I was first querying Crossing the Line, I had envisioned it as a trilogy. I’d read some agents asked for a synopsis of book two, so I wrote one, but never ended up needing it. I told my agent it was a part of a planned trilogy and the rough direction when we first spoke. Then when my publisher showed interest, they asked if I’d be open to keeping the books more episodic so the series could be longer than three books if we wanted.  I hadn’t considered anything but a trilogy since I’d finished the first book, but now that it was suggested to me, it made perfect sense.

Ultimately, the sales were only good enough for two books, but I’m still really glad this was the direction we went in. The trilogy was a different story. Thinking of the books a series led me to the story that was meant to be told. I didn’t need to submit any plans for the series to my editor, but that’s likely because I was being asked to change my plans and they knew I didn’t have it figured out yet.

Bonus tip

If you can, do your best not to end your first book on a cliffhanger. This doesn’t mean every single storyline has to be tied up. (Mine wasn’t!) It just means that it would be best if no one’s life is hanging in the balance and if the plot that was the most pressing in this book is tied up. There can still be plenty of loose threads to set up the next book, but it’s typically an easier sell if your agent can say your book is part of a planned series, but also stands alone. It gives your potential publisher options, which they like.

I hope this helps you submit your book series!

For more on querying an agent, check out my querying series! You can find the first post here.

Now it’s your turn: If you have experience submitting a series/trilogy, when did you submit your book series? What did agents and editors ask from you? If you don’t, what plans do you have? Tell me about it in the comments!

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The Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing

The Pros and Cons of Traditional PublishingIn 2014, I sold my YA book series to Philomel, which is an imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers. I knew pretty early on my writing life that I didn’t have the skillset for self-publishing, so it was traditional or bust for me. Four years and two books later, I’ve seen the traditional publishing world from the inside, and while it may not before everyone, it was definitely the right place for me. But, there are a lot of pros and cons of being traditionally published. So, if you’re on the fence and trying to decide if traditional publishing is worth the wait and the work, I created this post to help!

Here’s what I see as the top pros and cons of being traditionally published.

PROS

Larger distribution

Traditional publishers have deals in place with major and independent bookstores and retailers. They have the means and the connections to get your book into the hands of booksellers who can, in turn, get your book to your readers. The internet has made it easier than ever for self-published authors to get their books into the world, but it’s still a challenge for those authors to get their books into a physical store. And trust me when I say, browsing a bookstore in another state and finding your book on the shelf is pretty damn cool!

Get paid up front

I don’t have to tell you how many unpaid hours of work writers endure. If you’re anything like me, you may spend at least a year writing your book. And during that time, you probably put a lot of time and resources into your project knowing you may never see a return on it. This is why it’s really nice to sign a contract and get a check in the mail before your book even has a cover. How much you get will vary based on the specifics of your deal, but if you’re traditionally published, you will get something up front.

Also worth noting: You may have heard that since this is an advance on royalties, a publisher can ask for this money back if your book’s sales don’t earn your advance back. This is true, but also incredibly rare. In my experience, this only tends to happen if you violate your contract in some way. Otherwise, you get to keep the money. It’s seen as a good-faith gesture since you did, in fact, do work for the publisher. However, you won’t get any more money on your project unless you earn out.

A professional team (that you don’t have to pay for)

If you want an editor, proofreader, or cover artist as a self-published writer, you have to find and pay people to do these things for you. That can get both expensive and time consuming. But if you’re traditionally published, you don’t have to worry about any of that! Your publisher has a staff of professional editors, proofreaders, and graphic artists who will take on the task of physically producing the book. They will handle everything from creating your cover to obtaining an ISBN number to registering your copyright with the Library of Congress. You don’t have to sweat the details! They are pros and they’ve got you covered!

Marketing and sales support

Traditional publishing means you aren’t alone in selling your book! Publishers have entire sales and marketing department whose job it is to market their titles–including yours! Of course, how much support you get will vary, and no matter what, you definitely have to do your share of promotion. But if you ask me, it’s still better than going at it alone.

Credentials

More doors will open for you if you are a traditionally published author than a self-published one. This may not be fair, but it’s true. Traditional publishers are not easy to get into, so being picked up by one is a sign of talent to many. Granted, this may not be true if you’re a self-published author with truly outstanding sales and/or readership–there are exceptions to every rule. But by and large, having your book picked up by a major publisher will get you opportunities that self-publishing won’t.

CONS

Less of a say in everything

Remember that cover art that you didn’t have to pay for? Well, since you’re not paying for it, you also don’t get that much of a say in it. So, if you hate it, you may also be stuck with it if you’re traditionally published. Now, in my experience, publishers do want their authors to be happy, so if you truly hate your cover, there can be a discussion, but they ultimately get the final say. This is true in nearly every aspect of book production. Since your publisher is the one taking on the financial responsibility of publishing the book, they also get to make a bulk of the production decisions.

Contracted deadlines

If you’re traditionally published, you will have a deadline that you have to meet. Sometimes there’s wiggle room, but sometimes there isn’t. Publishers have a production schedule for all the books they put out. If you are late turning in your book, you will mess up the production schedule. This means your book won’t be ready by the scheduled release date (among other things). So if you’re traditionally published, you have to meet your deadlines, which can be intense and stressful.

Only get a fraction of each sale

When you self-publish, you get all (or nearly all) of the proceeds of your book. If you’re traditionally published, you get a small fraction of the sale. That’s largely because there are a lot more people to pay. The publisher, who put out the money to make your book, gets a cut. The bookseller, who is getting your book to readers, gets a cut. And you get your cut. Again, how much you get can vary, but as far as I know, 10%-12% is typically standard.

You might not be a priority

Publishing houses can be big, busy places. They have a lot of books and authors. You may not be a priority. Whereas, if you’re self-publishing and sending emails to your editor or cover artist, you’re more likely to be a priority to them since you’re paying them directly.

Barrier to entry

This is the biggest and most obvious con. It is not easy to get into traditional publishing. First, you need to get an agent, which can very well take years. Then your agent needs to get interest from editors. And just because your book was good enough to get you an agent, that doesn’t guarantee that an editor will want to buy it. If they do, they then have to convince their publisher that your book is a good investment. If they don’t, you need to write another book so you and your agent will try again. It can be a long process, so be prepared for it!

I hope this gives you a good sense of the pros and cons of traditional publishing!

With all of that said, don’t give up on traditional publishing if it’s what you want. I’m really glad I stuck with it and I wouldn’t want to do things any differently.

Now it’s your turn: What are your thoughts on traditional publishing? Tell me about it in the comments! And if you have any experience, please share that too!

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How to Find the Best Title for Your Novel: 8 Writing Tips

Finding the Right Title for your NovelBook titles! They’re such a small part of the overall product and word count, but they carry so much weight! A good title can pull your readers in and make them want to pick up your book, while a bad title will do the opposite. But finding the perfect title for your novel can be really challenging! And when you consider how important your title is, it can start to mess with your head. So much so that it might be hard to know where to start.

With that in mind, here are eight tips that I’ve found ridiculously helpful for finding the best title for your novel.

1) Do your title last

The best titles encompass a core theme of your book or main character. Often times, I’ve found that I have to make it to the final draft before I really know my book well enough to understand what I’m writing about. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t/shouldn’t do some light thinking and drop in a working title early on. If you want to, go for it! But I wouldn’t suggest giving your title a ton of your time or brain power until you’re totally finished your book and genuinely need a title. Once you reach that point, you’re playing with a full deck of cards, which will make it that much easier to come up with a killer title for your novel.

Of course, sometimes the perfect title just comes to you, and when that happens you should absolutely run with it!

2) Make a list of themes and related words

Once you finish your book and know what it’s about, make a list of themes, key events, and any related words. Then see if there’s a phrase that can capture one of your themes or events. This was how I came up with Crossing the Line. In the book, my main character makes the jump from working with the bad guys to working with the good guys. That’s the biggest line that’s crossed in the book, but there are a handful of other smaller ones too. So thematically, I think it works on a few different levels, which makes it a very fitting title for the book.

3) Use a thesaurus

If you have your word list, but can’t find a good phrase or combination, run those words through a thesaurus. This is a great way to work your theme into your title in a way that stands out. It’s one of my favorite title tricks. It’s also how I came up with Enemy Exposure, which as a title, I think stands out more than Crossing the Line. When I google Enemy Exposure all of the search results are my book, and that’s definitely not the case with Crossing the Line. (Not that I would change anything, because like I said, Crossing the Line is a fitting title. It’s just something to think about.)

4) Consider alliterations, internal rhymes, and other literary/poetic devices

You want your title to be memorable. One way to do that is to make your title satisfying to read. Literary and poetic devices are great for this. They make your title easy for your reader to recall and pass on, which can help grow your readership down the line. Here’s a list of poetic literary devices to help you out!

5) Look to other titles you like for inspiration

If you’re really struggling, look to your books shelves. What titles do you really love? Why do you like them? What about them do you want to mimic?

6) Consider your main character

Think about your character’s journey and what they go through in your book. Make a list like you did for your themes and key events. Is there anything that stands out? Is there anything you can put through the thesaurus?

7) Use a key line from your book

When you were writing your book, did you have a moment where you wrote a sentence and thought, “That’s it! This is what the book is about!”? If you did, can you modify that sentence for the title? Or is there a line that you overlooked that could work as a solid title? Maybe this is just me, but I get nerdily excited when I’m reading a book and there’s a sentence that basically has the title written out.

Or maybe you had to cut a line that you really loved because it just didn’t fit. Could you salvage that darling by reworking it into a title? (This is a trick I learned from a flash fiction class, but I think it applies pretty well to any type of writing.)

8) Don’t put too much pressure on it

As important as the title is, it also isn’t something that should keep you from submitting your book if you’re at that stage. You should absolutely give your title a lot of thought, but if you’ve been thinking about it hard for more than a week, it’s holding you back. At that point, I would suggest picking a working title and setting your book free. Because yes, the title is important. But it’s also really easy to change. If you have a title that you think is “good enough” hit submit–even if you think it can be better. If you’re trying to get an agent or an editor, it’s doubtful that your title will be the reason you don’t land one. If an agent/editor likes your writing, they will help you come up with a better title if need be.

I hope this helps you find the best title for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: How do you come up with a title for your novel? Is there any tip or trick that’s helped you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Determine the Genre of Your Novel

how to determine the right genre for your novelIf you want to publish your book or attempt to sell it in any capacity, you need to know your book’s genre. A genre is essentially the type of book you’re writing. Is it a comedy, a contemporary, a fantasy, a science fiction, etc? You don’t have to worry too much about your genre while you’re writing your book but when it comes time to try to sell it, you’re going to need to know who your book appeals to. Agents often have a list of genres that they work with, and editors have a list of genre’s that they like to work on.

Your book may have a lot going on, so narrowing it down to a couple categories might be challenging. If you’ve ever struggled to figure out what type of book you’re writing, this post is here to help!

1) Genre is different from age group

First, let’s talk about what genre isn’t. Genre isn’t the age group you’re writing for. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked someone what genre they write and they give me the age group they write for instead. Age group and genre are often said together, so it’s easy to think they’re the same, but they’re not. For example, my books are young adult spy/thrillers. Young adult is the age group I write for. Spy and thriller are the genres. 

With that said, it’s important to know your age group too since it’s just as much of a selling point as the genre. The primary age groups are picture book, chapter book (early readers), middle grade (ages 9-12), young adult (ages 13-18), and adult (ages 18+). There’s also new adult, but which is designed to bridge the gap between young adult and adult, but it’s a lot less common. Generally speaking, you determine the age of your book based on the age of your main character.

2) Choose a primary genre

When you pick your primary genre, you’re identifying the most prominent elements of your book. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you chose the right genre. You may have a handful of these elements in your book and that’s okay! But when for the sake of picking a primary genre, try to focus on the most dominant aspects of your novel.

Is there magic?

If the answer is yes, then you book is most likely a fantasy. If your book is a fantasy, is it set it in a fictional world that you created from scratch (like Lord of the Rings)? Then you probably have a high fantasy. If not, is your book’s world built into our own world? If it is, then your book is most likely an urban fantasy.

It could also be that your book is a fairy tale/ fairy tale retelling, which is a more specific type of fantasy. Did you base your book and/or magic off a fairy tale or folklore? If you did, then you might want to classify your book as such.

Are there paranormal creatures (such as vampires, zombies, etc)?

If there are, then it could be a fantasy, or it could be a supernatural/paranormal. Fantasy and paranormal are closely related and share some overlap, so it comes down to what is the more dominant element. To me, I would say if the magic is the more dominant element, then you have a fantasy. If the creatures are the more dominant element, then it’s supernatural.

So if you look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter, both have some forms of ghosts, vampires, and magic. But I would say Buffy is more defined by the Vampires and creatures of the night than magic, so it’s more supernatural. While Harry Potter is more defined by magic, which makes it more fantasy. However, since there are elements of these genre’s that overlap, you have some flexibility. Just make sure you do your research.

When is it set?

If it’s set in the past, it’s probably a historical fiction. If it’s set in the present, you’ve got a contemporary and if it’s set in the future, it’s probably science fiction.

Where is it set?

If it’s set in this world, it might be a historical or contemporary. If it’s set in a world you made up, it might be some kind of fantasy or science fiction.

Is there manipulated science/technology?

In this case, I’m talking a significant manipulation of the science we know today. If there is, then it’s likely to be science fiction. Don’t include minor manipulations. For example, in my books, I created a drug that’s pretty central to my character. However, it’s also a drug that could believably exist today, so I don’t consider that a significant manipulation, and I don’t consider my book to be science fiction. However, if you were to write a book about time travel, then you could consider it science fiction.

The rest of the questions are a little more straightforward:

Is there an element of mystery/crime to solve?

If yes, then it could be a mystery. But make sure this is the biggest aspect of your book before you classify it as a mystery. A lot of books have an element of mystery to them. Mysteries are a great way to propel your plot forward, but you should only classify your book as a mystery if that’s the main purpose of your plot.

Is it laugh-out-loud funny?

If it is, then you’ve got a comedy

Is it a tear-jerker or a book with a lot of interpersonal conflicts?

Then it’s probably some form of drama.

Is there a romance?

Like with mystery, a lot of books have some element of romance to them. However, you should only classify your book as a romance if the romance is a central plot of the book.

Is it intended to scare?

Then you’ve got a horror.

Is it “literary”?

If it’s a deep book, rich with symbolism and deeper meaning that’s meant to be dissected an analyzed than you most likely have written a work of literary fiction.

Is it action packed?

If your book is littered with action scenes like fights and car chases, then you have an action or thriller on your hands.

Is it about a terrible version of this world(The Hunger Games, Divergent, The 100)?

Then you’re looking at a dystopian.

Odds are, you answered yes to at least a few of these questions. Now it’s up to you to decide which elements you think are the strongest/most prominent. That’s your primary genre.

3) Choose a secondary genre

You may or may not need to choose a secondary genre so this step is entirely up to you. If you found that you had a hard time choosing between two genres for your primary genre, you may want to pick a second classification. A book series like The Lord of the Rings can simply be classified as a fantasy, but a time travel show like Timeless, could be considered both historical and science fiction. This is your call. However, more than two genres can be overwhelming so I wouldn’t suggest any more than that.

4) Do your research

Even if you are a lifelong fan of the genre you’re writing, make sure you do your research and have a good understanding of genre conventions. Readers of each genre have certain expectations. While you can most definitely take some liberties, you want to make sure you’re giving your readers what they’re looking for.

I hope this helps you determine the right genre for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: Do you determine your book’s genre before you write or after? Have you ever had a hard time figuring out your book’s genre? What made it challenging and/or how did you figure it out?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Tell When Your Book is Done: 6 Great Writing Tips

how to tell when your book is doneThere is a triumphant moment at the end of every first draft when you finally get to type “the end.” If you’ve ever finished a draft, you know it can be pretty amazing. But you also know it’s just the start of the revision process. Because the reality is, your book still has a long way to go before it can be considered “finished.” It takes a lot of work and a lot of revision, editing, and rereading before you’ll have a book that’s good enough to let others read or try to get an agent or editor. So, how do you know when your book is done?

As a writer, it’s likely that you’ll find something you can improve in your book every time you read through it. At some point though, you have to stop working and start sharing and/or submitting. But it can be hard to know when that time has come, especially when you can always find something to fix. So how do you know when your book is done and ready to submit?

Here are six tips to help you determine if it’s time to finally stop working on your manuscript and send it out in the world.

1) You’ve gone through everything in this post

If you’ve gone through every area on this list and find that you’re no longer making substantial changes, then it may be a sign that you’ve done all you can on this project. There’s no reason to create more work for yourself or create problems if they don’t exist. If you can’t find an issue in any of these categories, it might be because your book is done.

2) Your early readers are out of suggestions

When the people you trust most with your early work have nothing else to add, there’s a good chance it’s because this book is as good as it can be. This is especially true if you have excellent early readers who have been incredibly helpful to you. If the people you trust are saying they don’t have any more suggestions, then it’s probably time for you to stop working and set your book free!

(Need help finding some early readers? Check out this post.)

3) You start making lateral changes

When you start changing out words or revising scenes and find that the changes aren’t necessarily better, they’re just different, it may be time to step back. The point of revision and editing is to make your book better. If you’re making you’re book different instead of better than you’re wasting your efforts. And if you keep making these types of changes, you run the risk that you’ll overwork your book and end up making it worse.

4) You truly believe your book is the best you can make it at this point

There may be a few scenes or sentences that still feel a little off to you, but that doesn’t mean your book isn’t “done.” In fact, it might be a sign that it’s ready for a professional. Your book doesn’t have to be perfect to get an agent or an editor. In fact, if you get an agent and/or editor, they will almost definitely have suggestions and notes for you. Once you reach a point where it feels like you have done your best, and your book is as good as you can possibly get it, it’s time to send it out.

5) The last couple of times you read through it, the only corrections you made were proofreading errors/typos

There will always be typos and there will always be proofreading errors. Agents and editors know this. You definitely want to read your book through several times and get it as polished as it can be, but once you reach the point where these issues are your only problems, it’s time to start sending it out. If you’re waiting until you have a read through that’s completely clean of any errors, you may never see your book published. If you read your book two or more times, and the only changes you’re making are grammar and typos, then your book is done. It’s time to start submitting.

6) You’re obsessing over the smallest details.

Similar to the point above, if you find yourself getting hung up on commas or word choice, it’s time to let you book fly. Your book is never going to be perfect and agents and editors don’t expect it to be–especially at this stage. Do everything in your power to make your manuscript as clean as possible, but know that a typo, misplaced comma, or a poorly chosen word isn’t going to be the thing that stops you from getting published. Don’t hold yourself back by waiting for perfection. If you’re obsessing about the small details, that means you’re probably satisfied with the story and all of the bigger, more important issues. And if that’s the case, then it’s probably time to declare your book “done.”

I hope this helps you determine if your book is done!

Now it’s your turn: How do you know when your book is finished? What’s been the biggest struggle in declaring a book done? Do you ask someone else to decide for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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The Importance of Writing for the Right Reasons

The Importance of Writing for the Right ReasonsOne thing I’ve heard a lot about over the years is writers talking about giving up. I’m sure you’ve heard it too. Sometimes it comes from a writer who’s been published sharing how close they came to giving up. Sometimes it’s someone who hasn’t been published yet and wondering how much longer they should keep writing.

With that in mind, I have something to confess: Not once in my ten-year quest for publication did I ever consider giving up. And not once did I doubt that I would be published someday.

My secret? Ironically, I got very comfortable with the idea that I might never be published. Because of that, I found other reasons to write. And once I found other reasons to write, I knew I would be writing for the rest of my life whether anyone ever published me or not. And once I decided I would be writing for the rest of my life, publication start to feel inevitable–whether it happened in my twenties or in my sixties.

Publishing can validate you, but I don’t think a lack of a publishing credit should invalidate you. Publishers, editors, and agents may stand between you and your publishing dreams, but they don’t stand between you and your writing. That experience is solely and completely yours. You get to own that, whether anyone likes what your writing or not.

The more you write the better you will get. That’s how writing works. So, the key to reaching your writing goals, whatever they may be, is to keep writing. And it’s a lot easier to keep writing if you’re writing for the right reasons. Here are a few to consider:

Because  it makes you happy

This, I believe, is the best reason. Admittedly, I’m biased, because it’s also my biggest reason, but I think if you can write for yourself and your own happiness first and foremost, it makes it a lot easier to persevere until you reach your writing goals. If you write because it makes you happy, “good” doesn’t matter. Publishing doesn’t matter. And yet, the more the more write and the more you learn, the better you will get. You will get closer to good and get closer to being published, simply by focusing on telling a story that makes you happy the best that you possibly can.

Because it connects you to people like you

Writers often see the world differently than other people. As cool as it can be to have a unique perspective, it can also be a little isolating. Connecting with other writers can help you find people who see the world more like you do–who see a mess of stories and perspectives and outlooks. Connecting with the writing world through classes and social media can help you feel more supported and less isolated.

Because it helps you interpret and make sense of the world

Typically, writers are people who search for clarity and understanding. Writing can help us find that. It forces us to slow down and lock in on our own thoughts and beliefs. This brings a greater understanding to both our world and ourselves, which I believe makes us happier and more productive people.

Because maybe you can express an idea another person has been searching for

Have you ever read a book or watched a show/movie/play and had a character express an exact emotion you have felt but have never been able to put into words? I know I have. There’s a power in speaking for your audience like that–in being able to be their voice. That power doesn’t come from publication. It comes from writing. This is true regardless of if your audience is global or just your close friends and family.

Because no one else is going to have your perspective

No one will ever see the world exactly as you do. No one is going to put words together like you will. Writing is a way to record what you think, feel, and believe. Publishing may help you share your work, but you don’t need it to record your perspective. This is how you can use your voice.

Because you only get one chance to leave your mark on this world

If you have a story inside you, write it! Life may be full of second chances, but you only get one chance at life. Your work will almost certainly matter to someone whether it’s published or not. If you want to write, you should write. Leave your mark on the world and your readers while you still can.

Because connecting with readers is a true gift

We are lucky to live in the age of the internet where there are so many options to share our work. Between sites like Wattpad, and the ability to create a blog like I have, there are plenty of ways to get your work to readers on your own terms. There are few joys of writing that exceeded connecting with someone who has read and appreciated your work. That connection is real regardless of if you’re published or not.

Because being about to say you do something you love is worth more than any job can ever pay you

It is a privilege to get paid to do what you love, but I don’t show up every day to write for money. I show up every day because I am my best self when I do. Writing matters so much more to me than anyone can put a price tag on. I loved the act of writing so much that if I didn’t get published, I was fully prepared to work a boring job that paid enough and wasn’t in any way mentally taxing. Because nothing was more important to me than doing what I loved, whether anyone paid me for it or not. I found that writing out of love takes the pressure of publication off and brings more joy to both my life and my writing.

Because if you don’t give up, someone might just pay you someday

Publishing shouldn’t be the reason to write, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be reason to write. And I think you’ll find if it’s not your main motivator, it’ll get easier to keep writing no matter the criticism or odds. Additionally, if you’re not writing for publishing and bestseller fame, it puts you in a position to be happy with any publishing situation you find yourself in. Whether it’s a small press or major publisher, whether your book does incredibly well or incredibly poorly. It will be enough to have made it that far, regardless of the outcome. Write for reasons other than publishing, and publishing will never disappoint you.

I hope this helps you find the best reason for writing!

Now it’s your turn: Why do you write? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Treat Writing Like Your Job Before It Is

Treat Writing Like a Job Before it IsIf one of your writing goals is to be published, the sooner you start to treat writing like your job, the better off you will be.

I started treating writing like my job in grad school. To be fair, at that point, it kind of was my job since I was getting graded, but once I started that habit, it carried over into my post-grad life. I believe it’s a massive reason why I’m published and why I can handle it.

So today, I’m going to talk about how it can be beneficial to treat writing like your job, how it helped me, and give you some tips to help you do the same.

The benefits:

It builds good habits

You get used to showing up at your computer or notebook on a regular basis. If you want to be paid for your writing someday, you will have to meet deadlines. To meet those deadlines, you often have to show up even when you don’t always feel like it. The sooner you can get used to that idea, the more habitual it will be and the easier it will become.

It ups your productivity

I don’t think this needs a ton of explanation. When you show up on a regular basis, you will get more done! Sure, some days will be harder than others, but even a little bit of progress on a bad day is better than not writing at all. I also found that writing got a lot more fun for me once I saw consistent progress.

It helps protect your writing time

When you treat writing like a job, it makes it easier to protect your time and say no to others. If you asked someone for a favor but they had to work, they wouldn’t hesitate to say no. If you start thinking of writing as your job and framing it that way to others, it will be easier to say no to things. Because you do have to work. (I wrote a post on Saying No to Others if you need more tip on this.)

It makes transitioning into publishing more manageable

Like we said earlier, if you want to be published, you will have to meet deadlines. Those deadlines will be easier to meet if you’re already in the habit of scheduling your writing time and committing to that schedule. It’s pretty common for writers to spend years working on their first published book. No one is waiting on it, so you can take all the time you need. But once you sell that book, you’ll have a pretty serious deadline for revisions. And if you’ve sold more than one book, you’ll have to write an entire book from start to finish in a fraction of a time that it took you to write the first.

Personally, I found meeting publishing deadlines to be (for the most part) a lot easier than I was expecting. There were some parts I had to adjust to, but as a whole, it was a relatively smooth transition. I’m pretty sure this was because I was already used to the idea that writing was my job and that deadlines had to be met.

It forces you to take your goals seriously

The moment I decided to treat writing like my job was the moment I writing went from a fun side project to a career goal. It made me more dedicated and determined. I also found that once I took my goals more seriously, it either made others take my goals seriously, or helped me to tune out the people who didn’t.

How to make it happen:

Make a schedule and commit

When you have a ‘real job’ you have a regularly scheduled time to report and tasks to complete. If you’re treating writing like your job, then it’s going to need its own schedule and set of tasks. Pick a time of day that you can show up to your story on a regular basis. Maybe it means getting up a half hour earlier, staying up a half hour later, or writing through your lunch break. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time if you’re just starting out, just make sure it’s consistent.

Something else to keep in mind: while we are treating writing like a job, it’s important to remember that writing isn’t necessarily like other jobs. Some days, the brainpower and creativity just aren’t there. On days like that, I still encourage you to show up at your computer or notebook, if that’s part of your plan. Even if you can’t meet your goals, do what you can to keep that time commitment to yourself. Find a way to take a step forward, even if it’s only a small one. For more on how to commit to your writing, check out this post!

Set manageable goals

It’s okay if you treat writing like a part-time job instead of a full-time one. The point is to take your writing time and production as seriously as you would if someone were paying you to do so. However, you shouldn’t run yourself into the ground in the process. Small sacrifices are one thing, but you shouldn’t be killing yourself to make your writing dreams a reality. It’s unhealthy and unsustainable. It’s really hard to be a happy writer if you’ve spread yourself too thin, so set goals you can reasonably accomplish. Once you do break into publishing, you might be able to cut back on other obligations to get more time, but for now, build the habit. It’s easier to expand a habit you already have than to start from scratch.

For more on this topic, check out these posts: How to Set Manageable Writing Goals and The Importance of Setting Reasonable Writing Goals.

Hold yourself accountable (or find someone who will)

If this were a normal job, there would be a boss, someone above you waiting for your work. Someday, that will be your agent, editor, and publisher. For now, that boss is going to have to be you. If you’re someone who is good at holding yourself accountable this might not be too hard. Personally, I get a lot of satisfaction out of sticking to a schedule, but that might not be you. If that’s the case, then find a friend who will check in on your regularly. Then come up with a system. Maybe you have to report your word count or (if they’re a good early draft reader) send them pages. If you can find another writer, you can support each other and hold each other accountable.

Work “Out”

If you have the option of leaving home to write, give it a shot. I’ve found that this creates the feeling of “going to work” and helps me stay focused once I get there. I also know of writers who made it a habit of stopping a cafe for a half hour or so on their way home from work. They knew once they got home, the writing wouldn’t get done, so they found another option. If you want more on this topic, I did a whole post on the benefits of writing out.

I hope this gives you a good idea of why you should treat writing like your job and how to make it happen!

Now it’s your turn: What helps you take your writing seriously? Have you ever tried to treat writing like your job before? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Do You Need an MFA to Get Published?

The Pros and Cons of Getting an MFAFirst, the million dollar question. Do you need an MFA (Master of Fine Arts degree) to get published?

No. You absolutely do not. MFAs are not cheap and there are a lot of affordable resources that can help you hone your craft and become a better writer. I personally know plenty of published authors who do not have an MFA.

I, however, do have an MFA. My degree is an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College, and getting it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. While I believe that I would have gotten published eventually without my degree, I also credit it for a lot of my success. I think it massively accelerated my publication track and I became a better writer than I would have ever become had I not enrolled in my program.

But getting an MFA is a personal choice, and it may not be for everyone. If it’s something you’ve been contemplating, here’s my list of pros and cons to help.

The Pros:

Community

You get a built-in community of people who are in the same boat as you. They love writing, take it seriously, and want to make it their job. I found that this was one big reason I was often really excited to go to class every week.

Structured lessons designed to challenge you

Sure, you can learn to write by taking non-credit classes, online courses, or reading craft books/blogs/articles, but those courses aren’t always designed to really push you. MFA programs are built to make you a better writer and often require you to do things that might scare you or that you may think you can’t do. They are built for more serious writers who what to be the best writers they can be.

Deadlines

You’ll have a handful of deadlines each semester, which forces you to be productive. This is good practice if you’re hoping to be published someday.

Knowledgeable/experienced instructors

MFA programs usually require instructors to either be published writers or have made significant contributions to the writing/literary community. The people you learn from are vetted and experienced writers with plenty to share.

A tool for a day job

While an MFA does not guarantee you a publishing contract, it does give you some solid credentials for a day job while you work toward your publication goals. With an MFA, you can teach writing at various levels. Colleges, in particular, are often looking for adjunct Comp 101 teachers, and some might even have openings in their creative writing classes. Personally speaking, my degree has enabled me to work as a college writing tutor for the past four years, which has given me a reliable source of income.

Exposure to opportunities and experiences

MFA programs have a vested interest in your success. If you succeed, it reflects well on them. Because of that, they are able to point you in the direction of some quality resources that will help you reach your goals. During my time in my MFA program, I had access to regular talks from editors, agents, and published writers. I was also given the chance to do a reading in a Philadelphia Barnes & Noble for one of my classes. This meant that we spent time discussing how to give a good reading and my first reading experience was with a friendly audience of classmates, family, and friends. When my book came out and I had to do events, I was prepared.

Additionally, there were a handful of conferences and writing events that gave discounts to students in my program.

An informed critique

The feedback you get comes from people who are studying the craft just like you are. While a friend’s critique can be valuable and helpful, it also might include, “this is funny,” or “I don’t like this,” which isn’t all that helpful. A critique from your MFA instructor or classmate will often be more specific. They’ll be able to tell you exactly what you’re doing well so you can replicate it, and identify specific problems, so you know what you need to fix.

Plenty of options

You can choose between full residency programs (traditional, weekly classes), low-residency programs (work remotely with short stints on campus), and fully online programs, to find one that best fits your budget and lifestyle. And while MFAs are expensive, you don’t have to go to the most renowned school to benefit. I went through a small, fairly affordable program and I feel like I got a high-quality education.

Shows agents/editors you’re serious

Getting an MFA is a sign to editors and agents that you are serious about your writing. It tells them that this isn’t just a hobby for you. It shows that you put a serious investment into learning your craft, which is often appreciated.

You will be a better writer

I am an exponentially better writer with my MFA than I was before it. My first published book was the first book I developed from start to finish after I graduated, and I don’t think that’s an accident. It was the first chance I had to use everything I learned in my program. Your experience may not look like mine, but I can’t imagine a reality where you won’t emerge a better writer after you graduate than you were before you started. You’ll also give yourself a serious leg up on any publishing goals you may have.

The Cons:

Cost

This is obviously a big one. Of course, prices vary from program to program, but we’re still talking about a Master’s degree. As I mentioned, my program was pretty affordable, but even the most affordable programs cost thousands of dollars. You have to figure out if it’s really worth it for you based on your own circumstances.

Time

Again, it’s a Master’s degree. Each class is going to take a significant time commitment. Also, if your life is really busy and you’re only taking one or two classes a semester, it will take a long time to complete your degree. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something to think about.

Location

Depending on the program you pick and where you live, you will most likely have to travel to your school either weekly or occasionally. Your time commitment and travel expenses could increase if you live far away from your school. Additionally, your availability and travel budget could limit your options.

A possibility of too much feedback

You don’t get to pick your readers in an MFA program. Even though the majority of your classmates will probably have the best intentions when they give feedback, they will not all be your readers. Some will not get your work, and their advice might mess with your head. I’ve seen it happen. It is possible to give good feedback regardless of genre, but that is a very specific skill set that not all MFA students have. No matter what you decide, it’s important to keep this in mind.

Mental fatigue

Any graduate program can be mentally draining, especially if you’re also working a full-time (or even part-time) job and trying to keep up with family and friends. You will most likely spread yourself too thin during your time in school. I thought it was worth it, but it may not be for everyone.

No guarantee of publication

In most professions, getting a Master’s degree in your field all but guarantees you a job in that field–at least at some capacity. The same cannot be said for an MFA in writing. While I absolutely believe it will make you a better, more complete writer and give you a better shot at the publishing industry, publications if far from guaranteed.

I hope this gives you a good idea of the pros and cons of getting an MFA!

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever thought about an MFA? Do you have one? What are your pros/cons/concerns/thoughts? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Write a Book Synopsis: 5 Awesome Writing Tips

Writing a Book SynopsisThe dreaded book synopsis! It seems like this is the least favorite part of the submission package for so many writers. I have a few tips to help, but first, let’s talk about what exactly a book synopsis is.

A book synopsis is a brief summary of your story from start to finish. It tells an agent or editor exactly what they can expect if they take the time to invest in your book. The actual length of the synopsis can vary, but mine have been about a page and a half on average. I’ve never had one more than two pages but some can be.

As far as how to write and format a synopsis, YA author Melissa Meyer has an awesome explanation complete with examples. I feel like this is a pretty good guide, so instead of giving a synopsis guide of my own, I’ll share five tips that have helped me make this process as painless as possible.

1) Focus on the 5 Ws in your introduction

Who, What, Where, When, and Why are classics for a reason. They cut to the chase and pull your reader into the story. Take advantage of them! However, if it’s too much, or too challenging to fit everything into your intro paragraph, you can probably get away with stretching into the second paragraph. By the end of the second paragraph, all of these questions should be answered.

2) For your plot, only focus on your major plot line

Narrowing down storylines is always a challenge for me. There’s a lot going on in my books and everything feels important. But if you try to mention every important storyline, your synopsis will be entirely too long and difficult to follow. To simply things, put your focus on your main plotline, and limit adding details about any of the others. With that said, it’s okay to hit at another storyline if it impacts your main plot. Just avoid getting swept up in details. Give your reader only what they need to know in order to understand the main storyline.

3) For character, only focus on your main character

Like your plot, you want to keep the focus on your main character. That doesn’t mean you can’t include other characters, but they need to be characters who are essential to progressing your main plot and your main character. A synopsis is short, so the more characters you add, the more confusing it will read. If there’s a character who is only important for one or two plot points, don’t give their name, give a descriptor instead. For example, “the CEO” or “the teacher”. This keeps the focus on your main character and prevents reader confusion.

4) Don’t get bogged down in specifics

The key is to keep the synopsis moving. Even if you’re limiting your focus on your main plot and main character, you shouldn’t go into every detail. For example, maybe there’s a complicated series of events that lead your characters from Plot Point A to Plot Point B. You don’t have to go into the details of those events. You can simply say something like, “After a complicated series of events, Main Character makes it to the other side of the mountain.” This way you’re connecting plot points without slowing your reader down.

5) Give away the ending, but don’t give away everything

One thing that’s always emphasized in synopsis guidelines is the fact that you’re supposed to give away the ending. And that’s true. However, going off the previous point, you don’t have to give away every single detail about the ending, nor do you have to give away every twist and turn that gets us to the ending. I suggest using points two and three as guides. Make sure you take your reader through the climactic moment of your main plot and your character development, but it’s okay if you hold back details that are non-essential to understanding those storylines.

Bonus: Try writing the synopsis before you write the book

Now, this is a bonus tip because I find this helpful, but it also slightly goes against traditional advice.

In most cases, if you’re writing a synopsis for a book you want to submit to an agent, you’re supposed to wait until you finish the book to write it. However, I find it easier to write a synopsis before I write the book. Once I’ve written the book, I have a much harder time narrowing the focus to the main plot and what really matters. Everything feels important. But when I write the synopsis before I write the book, I have haven’t developed the book enough to write more than the main plot and the character. This approach is done more traditionally when a synopsis is part of a submission package for a book that hasn’t been written yet, as explained by Melissa Meyer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write the synopsis ahead of time even if you plan on writing the complete book.

Granted, I always have to revise my synopsis based how the book looks when I’ve finished writing it, but I’ve found it much easier to shape an in-progress synopsis than to completely start from scratch. So, if you’ve struggled with writing a synopsis in the past, maybe try to do a draft of a synopsis as an early brainstorming technique, then come back and revise later.

I hope this helps you write an awesome book synopsis!

For more information on agent submission, check out my three-part querying series: How to Write a Query Letter, How to Query an Agent, and How I Got My Agent.

Now it’s your turn: What has your experience with a book synopsis been? Do you love them or hate them? Tell me about it in the comments! If you have any tips, please share those too!

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How I Got My Agent: My Successful Querying Story

Querying: How I got my agentWelcome to Part Three of my three-part querying series! ICYMI: Here’s Part One: How to Write a Successful Query Letter and Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent. This time, I’m going to tell you all about how I got my agent.

These stories meant a lot to me when I was querying, so it only seems right that I share my own. A shorter version of this story can be found on the Writer’s Digest blog. There was a lot I couldn’t fit into that post, so this is an expanded and more query-centric version.

Post-High School Querying

If you’ve read my story, you know I wrote my first book in high school. It was a YA fantasy. I spent the end of my senior year editing, determined to have a “polished” book by graduation, so I could spend the summer querying. I used AgentQuery.com to research agents I thought would be a good fit for me, built a list of between fifteen to thirty agents (I don’t remember exactly), and sent my letters out in two or three rounds. At this point, agents were just starting to accept email queries so most fo my letters went out via USPS with a self-addressed stamped envelope for a response. It took all summer just to send those first letters and hear back.

Since almost everything went out snail mail, it also got expensive pretty quickly–especially when sample pages were involved. Which is why I didn’t query too much beyond the summer. In addition to the expense, but I also started to realize that the book could be a lot better. I didn’t get any requests, so after the summer, I pulled it back. Even though I didn’t get anywhere close to getting an agent, I learned a lot about the querying process, which was really helpful down the line.

Post-College Querying

I wrote a new book in college that was set in the same world as my previous book. This one felt so much better from the start. I used the beginning of the book to get into my MFA program, where I workshopped it until I had a draft I was really happy with. There were still a few sections that I thought could be stronger (especially toward the beginning) but it was the absolute best I could do at the time. I pulled on everything I’d learned from my first querying experience and combined it with what I was learning in my MFA program and got querying. (This was when I found QueryTracker.com.)

In the end, I queried this book twice. First in the fall of 2011. I had a working list of agents when I started, but I was always looking to add more. I found a query tip somewhere (I can’t remember exactly where) that suggested looking in a book’s acknowledgment section for names since most authors thank their agents there. So I flipped through a bunch of books I had read recently and found two of the authors were represented by Michelle Wolfson. I added her to my list.

Michelle has a “no response means no” policy, so she only responds if she likes your query. When she responded to mine I was thrilled. Ultimately, she wasn’t making a request, but she was very encouraging while pointing at a few issues in the book that resonated with me. She also asked me to keep her in mind for the future if this book didn’t get me an agent. She may have been passing on my book, but I felt like she saw what I was trying to do even though I wasn’t actually pulling it off yet. Because of that, she became my first choice for my future agent. I also pulled the book back to revise based on her feedback.

I spent the next nine months revising it on and off while I worked on my thesis project for school. I started querying again in the summer of 2012 while I wrote Crossing the Line. Michelle was closed to queries at this point, so I never got to go back to her with the revision. I got a couple requests for the updated version, but no offers. I queried this book until Crossing the Line was polished and ready to submit, which was mid-September of 2013.

The Numbers: 126 agents queried, 2 requests, 1 promising rejection, 0 offers

Querying Crossing the Line

When I started querying Crossing the Line, Michelle was my first choice thanks to her previous rejection. But she was also still closed to queries. I didn’t follow agents on social media when I was querying–I didn’t want to be that attached–but I followed Michelle. I had a good feeling about her and I didn’t want to miss when she opened back up again. In the meantime, I went back through the list of agents I’d cultivated and started at the top again while I wrote a new book. Six weeks into querying, Michelle opened and I sent my letter off right away. She got back to me within a couple hours asking for more pages.

One of the reasons I liked Michelle from the start is that she’s very upfront with what you can expect from her. She tells you right in her submissions guidelines that she typically responds to queries very quickly and partials very slowly. This turned out to be accurate. Michelle also mentioned how long I should wait before following up. I followed up with her every few months until the last Thursday in June when her response said my partial was her subway reading for that afternoon. Later that night, I got another email from her asking to read the whole book.

I sent it off, excited, but also expecting it to be a little while until I heard from her. (By now, I had gotten good at waiting.) The following Tuesday morning, my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize, and I had my hands full straining chickpeas, so I didn’t pick up. A beat after the phone stopped ringing I realized who it might be. Sure enough, Michelle had left a voicemail saying she loved my book and asking me to call her back. I called back before I could think too much about it. (I was ready to do some research on what it might mean and what questions I should ask, but I refrained.) We had a great call and I was officially a represented author.

The Numbers: 111 agents queried, 2 requests, 1 offer and acceptance.

Why I Said ‘Yes’ on the Spot

As you can see, I queried a lot of agents and didn’t get many requests. Even with that, I didn’t say yes to Michelle because she was the only one who offered. I said yes because I believed she was the best agent for me. She saw something in the first book I queried her with when very few did. Additionally, the things she felt weren’t quite right with that book were also things that had bothered me–I just wasn’t able to put my finger on them. This made me feel like we’d be in sync and make a good team. I also really liked that she responded to two very different books. I’ve always known that I’d want to write in a few different genres, so it was encouraging to know going in that she’d had some interest in two different stories.

At the time, all I had out with other agents were query letters. Between our exchanges and my gut instinct, I was sure Michelle was the agent for me. So much so that I felt giving the agents who had my letters a chance to read my book and make an offer would have been wasting their time. Ultimately, this just felt right to me–even in my overexcited state. I have no regrets.

So, that’s how I got my agent!

This concludes our querying series! In case you missed the others, here’s Part One: How to Write a Query Letter and Part Two: How to Query A Literary Agent.

If there’s anything about my personal querying journey you want to know more about, feel free to drop it the comments or send me a message.

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve queried in the past, what did you learn that’s helped you going forward? If you haven’t queried before, what are you anxious or excited about? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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